Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas Bird Count, Needham

The Christmas Bird Count is now a very structured (if even a bit exclusive) activity. A hundred years ago it was a much more informal affair. You'd go for a walk on a date near Christmas, send your list to Bird Lore magazine, and wait for the February issue to see it in print. Obviously some people took it more seriously than others--compare Archie Hagar's 12 hour session in Marshfield (with a second birding jaunt to Newtonville) to the skimpy list Charles E. Heil was able to muster for Needham.

Well, in the spirit of Charles E. Heil (about whom we'll have more to say in a moment), I went for a walk (Cutler) and counted some birds. Here is my list, formatted Bird Lore Christmas Bird Census style.

Needham, Mass.--Dec. 19; 7 to 8:30 A.M. Cloudy; ground bare; temp.,15°. Ring-billed Gull,3;Rock Pigeon,1;Mourning Dove,6;Downy Woodpecker,2;Blue Jay,4;American Crow,6;Black-capped Chickadee,2;Tufted Titmouse,5;White-breasted Nuthatch,2;American Robin,1;Northern Mockingbird,1;American Tree Sparrow,1;White-throated Sparrow,1;Dark-eyed Junco,12;American Goldfinch,2. Total, 15 species, 49 individuals.

(Actually, I also observed a huge continuous stream of blackbirds--unidentified--which would boost the "individual" tally into the 500s.)

The most striking differences between the Needham lists are the Northern Shrike, which you could apparently see 100 years ago just taking a walk (if only, now...) and the Tufted Titmouse/Northern Mockingbird, which were still considered southern birds back then. I'm pretty sure Heil and I explored approximately the same territory--in future issues of Bird Lore he would list West Roxbury as his search location--just across the river.

Here's the thing about Charles E. Heil. He was a distinguished artist, best known for his bird drawings--a bird-lovin' Needhamite, who I had never heard of before. He's even got some work in the National Gallery.

Here's an example from the Cleveland Museum of Art.

So in the spirit of Charles E. Heil, my own artistic contribution:

Thanks, Photoshop!

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